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Monday, April 12, 2004
Lofton, Williams likely to displace Crosby

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Bubba Crosby bounced right out of the dugout and raised his helmet high in the air.

After all, he approaches everything with extra energy -- even a curtain call.

"He's a throwback," New York Yankees teammate Gary Sheffield said. "He's got his pants all up high and his uniform is dirty. He gives you a boost. When you see a guy out there like Lenny Dykstra gettin' dirty, you want to get dirty, too."

In fact, Crosby said Dykstra, a reckless outfielder for the Mets and Phillies from 1985-96, was one of his favorite players growing up, along with gritty Houston leadoff hitter Craig Biggio.

The way 5-foot-11, 185-pound Crosby has played for the Yankees so far, he's bound to inspire a few undersized kids himself.

He's got two homers and five RBIs in only five at-bats this season. In his first start for the Yankees on Sunday, he hit a three-run homer in a 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox and crashed into the fence to make a terrific catch.

The scrappy center fielder earned several standing ovations from Yankees fans who couldn't help but fall in love with his all-out play.

By the end of the day, they were chanting his name -- on a team loaded with stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.

"It's just been a dream come true," Crosby said.

"It seemed like every other inning I was tipping my cap. That felt great."

The rookie got his nickname from his sister, who was 15 months old when he was born and couldn't pronounce the word "brother." Then again, as Crosby pointed out, Bubba is a pretty popular name in his home state of Texas anyway.

After an All-America college career at Rice, he was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the 1998 amateur draft.

He was leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.361) and slugging (.635) when he was sent to the Yankees in a deal for Robin Ventura at the trade deadline last season.

Crosby knew how tough it would be to crack a New York roster filled with All-Stars, but he grabbed everyone's attention this year with a huge spring, hitting .357 with two homers and 11 RBIs.

He was a surprise addition to the big league roster when the team broke camp -- thanks, in part, to some injuries.

Now, on a team with an average salary of $6.3 million, Crosby makes only $301,400. But he's been worth that already.

"I'm not surprised," Sheffield said. "I played with him a little bit in L.A. and he was a spark there, and they're fortunate to have him here."

Crosby hit his first big league homer in his first at-bat as a Yankee, a two-run shot Friday.

"He had a big smile on his face. It sort of made my day just to watch him float around the bases," manager Joe Torre said.

Filling in Sunday while Kenny Lofton nursed a tight thigh and Bernie Williams served as the designated hitter, Crosby showed good range and quick feet in center field.

"He's excited about being here," Torre said. "But he's got a lot of confidence. He's never been one to feel he didn't belong here. He's still in awe of being here, but he feels that he can do it here."

Still, the 27-year-old Crosby might not last long in the majors.

Torre hopes Lofton will be ready to play by Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, and Travis Lee is getting close to returning from a strained shoulder. That could leave Crosby, who still has minor league options, as the odd man out.

"Kenny and Bernie, that's their spot. It's nice to have an option like that, though," Torre said. "Maybe injuries forced us to take him, but he's certainly made an impression here."

Crosby's salary would drop to $60,441 if he's sent to the minors, but he said he would go down and just keep playing hard.

"You certainly want to keep him around," Torre said. "Again, he's in a situation where you'd like to see him playing, and you'd certainly want to control more players than if you cut somebody loose."

Notes
Yankees RHP Orlando Hernandez, coming off shoulder surgery last year, is scheduled to make his second extended spring training start Wednesday. He pitched two innings Saturday against Philadelphia minor leaguers. "No pain ... that's very important," Hernandez said Monday. "I'm feeling good." He's not expected to be ready to pitch in the majors until late May or June. ... No. 5 starter Jon Lieber, on the DL with an injured right groin, threw for 10 minutes -- his second bullpen session in four days. Lieber said he will have another mound session Wednesday and did not rule out pitching in an extended spring training game Friday. "I tried to turn it up a notch today," he said. "There were no problems. It felt good. The arm strength is there." Lieber could join the Yankees by the middle of May.